Reuters answers the mystery of why the US took Abu Anas al-Libi to New York so quickly after his ambush and capture in Libya. The chief suspect in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya had been taken aboard a Navy vessel, one of the “floating Gitmos” that have replaced the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and CIA “black sites” for interrogating captured terrorists. His abrupt arrival in New York might have indicated that interrogators had extracted enough valuable data to allow them to turn the AQ terrorist over to the Department of Justice. Instead, it seems that al-Libi pulled a high-stakes bluff that worked:
An elite U.S. interrogation team abandoned its questioning of an al-Qaeda militant who was snatched in Libya after he stopped eating and drinking regularly on board a U.S. Navy ship where he was being held, a U.S. official familiar with the matter said.
As his health deteriorated, U.S. authorities decided to fly the suspect known as Abu Anas al-Liby to New York last weekend, where he was taken to a hospital for treatment. …
Upon arrival in the United States, al-Liby became subject to the rules of the civilian American court system. That means he can no longer be interrogated without being advised of his constitutional right to avoid incriminating himself, the official said.
Last week, U.S. officials said one of the principal reasons U.S. Delta Force commandos staged a risky raid to capture al-Liby at his Tripoli residence was so the United States could gather intelligence from the former senior operative of the core al Qaeda organization founded by Osama bin Laden.
This is why keeping the actual Gitmo would come in handy. The terrorist didn’t get extradited through diplomatic or law-enforcement channels, but was captured in a military/intelligence operation. That follows on the 2001 AUMF in which Congress authorized the White House to attack al-Qaeda and its allies as a war rather than an investigation and prosecution. In that paradigm, al-Libi can and should be handled as an illegal combatant in the military commissions that Congress has repeatedly authorized and which the Obama administration is now operating.
The White House tried to have it both ways, and ended up with a bit of egg on their face. They won’t take captured terrorists to Gitmo because they don’t want to admit that Gitmo is necessary. At the same time, the administration is now using Navy vessels for the same purposes as Gitmo on a temporary basis. This time the detainee calculated that the Pentagon and the White House wouldn’t want to explain how a captured terrorist died during questioning and that they would take him to the US and the civil court system rather than Gitmo, where intel interrogators would pursue him indefinitely.
He won that bet, apparently, and now every subsequent capture will play out along the same arc. That may not make a great deal of difference in prosecuting al-Libi, where the 1998 court case has long been established and solid. It will make a difference in gathering enough intel to prevent future terrorist attacks against America and its interests.